O2 is first to launch 3G services on 2G, boosting speeds and capacity

O2 has expanded its 3G data coverage on to the 2G spectrum previously reserved for voice calls and texts, following a change in the rules by Ofcom in January.

Flora Graham
2 min read

The O2 network gets a boost in London today, as the network is the first to offer 3G services on a frequency previously reserved for 2G. 

O2 has already trialled the change in Leeds, Birmingham and Manchester. It claims that based on data from those cities, the change will mean a 50 per cent increase in the capacity of its network, and a 30 per cent improvement in download speed.

Ofcom cleared the way in January for networks to use their 2G spectrum -- 900MHz and 1,800MHz -- for 3G connectivity. That means those chunks of the airwaves can be used for data rather than just for calls and texts.

The change should add heaps of capacity for us punters, as well as better coverage in buildings and rural areas thanks to the power of the lower frequencies.

Orange and T-Mobile may not be as keen on the switch. O2 and Vodafone were given a share of the 900MHz band for peanuts when mobile phones first came to the UK. But Orange and T-Mo didn't get allocated any of that spectrum, since they came later to the party.

They use the 1,800MHz band, which can't penetrate the same distances as the 900MHz signals because of its higher frequency. Therefore, switching from the 2,100MHz 3G band for their data won't give them as much of an improvement in their coverage.

Three is also left out in the cold, since it doesn't own any 2G spectrum.

From our perspective, sorting out the spectrum can't come soon enough, because the bunfight between the networks has left us years behind in the race to get 4G coverage. That means that we're stuck gazing across the pond with envy at America's 4G phones, when by all rights we should be gloating over our superior handsets. Now that the networks can start sorting out their coverage between 2G and 3G bands, the 4G spectrum allocation can begin in earnest.